Florida schools roundup: Funding suit rejected, charter schools and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

School funding suit rejected: The First District Court of Appeal rejects a challenge to the state’s public school funding, saying the issue raises political questions that can’t be answered by judges. Several education groups and some parents contend that the state discriminates against minorities and low-income students, which they call a violation of the state’s constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.” The argument was rejected by a circuit court judge last year, leading to this appeal. The groups suing the state say they don’t know if they’ll take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeal court also ruled that the McKay scholarship, which provides state money to about 30,000 disabled children, is constitutional. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelGradebook. Sunshine State NewsPolitico FloridaredefinED.

Charters are public: The Florida Commission on Ethics has decided that charter schools are public agencies, not private ones. In October, the commission deadlocked on an opinion in a conflict of interest case. The opinion concluded that charter schools are not public agencies, but it was not adopted because of the tie vote. Last week, commissioner Matthew Carson cast the deciding vote and said, “Charter schools are public schools in operation, in function and by statute. Seems to me that what would be good for any other public agency under this statute would also be good for a charter school.” Politico Florida.

Charter school accused: A former Broward County charter school once accused of falsifying enrollment numbers to get more money from the state now faces allegations of fraud. New Horizons, now a private school that used to be the Pathway Academy charter school, allegedly falsified records when applying for tax credit scholarship money, and an administrative judge says the school should be cut off from scholarship funds. School officials deny the charges, and plan to file a response to the Department of Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers honored: Jennifer Powell, an economics and government teacher at Chiles High School in Tallahassee, is named the Leon County School District’s teacher of the year. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. Es Swihart, an English teacher at Riverview High School in Sarasota, is named the Sarasota County School District’s teacher of the year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Kayla Bailey, 5th-grade teacher of language arts at Wewahitchka Elementary, is named the Gulf County School District’s teacher of the year. Honored as school employee of the year is Cindy Rich, a secretary at Port St. Joe Elementary School. Port St. Joe Star. Seven teachers from around the state win Governor’s Shine Awards, which are presented to teachers who make significant contributions to the field of education. Sumter County Times.

Appointing superintendents: The Florida Association of District School Superintendents announces its opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would, if approved, require all school superintendents to be appointed. Twenty-six Florida districts now have appointed superintendents, while 41 elect theirs. “The citizens in local communities have a better understanding of what is needed for their community and should have the right to exercise local control in deciding whether their school superintendent is elected or appointed,” the group said in a statement. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Raises for school employees: The Palm Beach County School Board approves raises of 2.5 percent to 5 percent for all its employees, depending on their performance and category. Superintendent Robert Avossa will get a 3 percent raise, raising his $325,000 salary by $9,750. The raises will cost the district about $30 million. Raises of an average of 3.2 percent for teachers were approved last month. Negotiations begin next month with school police officers, the only group that has yet to be awarded raises. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract agreement: The Pasco County School District reaches a contract agreement with the union representing its employees. Under the tentative agreement, teachers will get a raise of 0.75 percent, and those not eligible for bonuses from the state will receive the same amount from the district. All other employees will get a 2.25 percent raise, and everyone will receive $142 for health insurance. Tampa Bay Times.

Financial bonus for schools: The half-cent sales surtax for the Brevard County School District is bringing in more money than expected. The tax began Jan. 1, 2015, and through Sept. 30 of this year the schools have collected $109.2 million – $24.5 million more than projected. Florida Today.

Call for a truce: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier calls for a “truce” with the school board, and promises that she and her staff will communicate better with board members in 2018. But she added, “At the same time, I won’t cave in to attempts to bully or intimidate me publicly or with emails related to my personal and/or non-job-related life. That will not work.” Board members criticized Maier recently when they learned through a newspaper article that a school principal had been suspended for a month. Ocala Star-Banner.

Transforming a school: Bay County school officials are unhappy that the state is forcing it to choose from three options to impose on the struggling Oscar Patterson Elementary School. One is closing, which the district rejects. The other two would transform the school into a charter school, either run by the district or an outside company. But Superintendent Bill Husfelt says the district is having a hard time finding charter school companies that want to take over Patterson, or even come to Florida. Panama City News Herald.

School for girls: An alternative education program for middle- and high-school students could open in Hernando County as early as Jan. 9. The private, nonprofit PACE Center for Girls opened in 1985 in Jacksonville as an intervention program to keep girls out of the juvenile justice system. Today, there 19 around the state. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter approved: The Lake County School Board approves a new charter school, Lake Charter Academy, which will be managed by the for-profit Charter Schools USA. The school must open by the 2020-2021 school year or lose its charter. It will begin as a K-6 school, with plans to eventually expand to 7th and 8th grades. Daily Commercial.

School programs: The Marion County School District is opening three more academies next fall: Robotics, Automation and Design Academy at Belleview High; Information Technology Academy at North Marion High; and Future Educators Academy at Vanguard High. Ocala Star-Banner.

Lagging in math, science: Florida continues to lag behind other states in preparing its high school students for college majors in STEM-related fields. Florida students were below average in average ACT science and math scores among states that have at least 70 percent of their seniors taking the tests. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Transgender case ends: The civil trial of transgender student Drew Adams against the St. Johns County School District has concluded. Adams, now 16, says the district violated his civil rights when it told him to use gender-neutral bathrooms instead of the boys bathroom at Nease High School. Next, Judge Timothy Corrigan will tour Nease, receive written arguments from the attorneys, and listen to oral arguments in March. Corrigan says he wants to issue his decision before Adams starts his senior year next August. Florida Times-Union.

Education budget panned: Florida Democrats are calling Gov. Rick Scott’s claims about his “record-breaking” K-12 education spending in his budget as “fuzzy math.” Scott is proposing spending $7,497 per student. Democrats say that number is significantly lower than the 2007 spending that, when adjusted for inflation, would be $8,358 in today’s dollars. Politico Florida.

Energy savings: A decade of energy conservation has paid off for the St. Johns County School District, with officials estimating they’ve saved $44.4 million in energy costs. Among the energy-saving moves: Using motion detector controls to automatically turn off lights in rooms when there is no activity, retrofitting older buildings with upgraded windows, buying more efficient heating and cooling systems, LED lighting and turning off things like computers and copiers when they aren’t being used. St. Augustine Record.

New school name: The Pasco County School Board will vote next week on a new name for Ridgewood High School, which is closing at the end of the school year and reopening in August as a magnet technical school. The favored name is Wendell Krinn Technical, which would honor Ridgewood’s first principal. Krinn died in 2016. Other suggestions include Ridgewood Technical, West Pasco Technical and West Pasco College Prep & Career Academy. Gradebook. The board will also consider allowing students who attend schools outside their neighborhood zones through the choice plan to skip reapplying when the board redraws boundaries for several high schools on the west side of the county. Gradebook.

Day-care deaths: Two Miami-Dade County children who have died of meningitis this month attended the same downtown Miami day-care center. The YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Center Day Care is now closed while health officials investigate. Miami Herald.

Teacher escapes punishment: An Okaloosa County elementary school teacher who was investigated for helping her 5th grade students change incorrect answers on an assessment reading test was never punished, and her name was never sent to the Florida Department of Education’s division of Professional Practices for review, as the investigator recommended. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bomb threat arrest: A man is arrested and accused of making two bomb threats that forced the evacuation of Sebring and Avon Park high schools in Highlands County. No explosive devices were found. James Irvin Jr., 29, is charged with two counts of threatening to discharge a destructive device and two counts of using a two-way device to commit a felony. WFLA. WTSP.

Students hurt in crash: Four Highlands County students are injured, two seriously, when their bus is hit by a semitrailer truck on U.S. 27 near Lake Placid. Florida Highway Patrol troopers say the truck driver, 45-year-old Stanley Lockwood, slammed into the back of the bus as it was stopped to pick up students. Tampa Bay Times. Associated Press. WFLA. WTSP. The crash renews the debate over seat belts in school buses. The state requires lap seat belts in school buses, but students are not required to use them. WFTS.

Opinions on schools: The Duval County school system is educating a large number of children in poverty. Now add a further complication. There are more homeless children in the school system than most of us realized, which means more students are dealing with an added level of trauma. And the Legislature continues to raid a program designed to help low-income families find affordable housing. Florida Times-Union.

Student enrichment: Students at Bexley Elementary School’s Academy of Aviation are using  drones and large-scale aviation equipment to learn basic math and science concepts. Tampa Bay Times.

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